Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday archives: your pastry shop vigilante

Maybe I should have used a more fashionable title such as Friday fluff, or Saturday Cat, if it were not such a serious post (with my deep excuses to the person I am lifting this post from).

I was looking aimlessly through the archives of "Chase me Ladies, I'm in the cavalry" one of these many blogs I should blogroll if one day I get around to update my link list (apologies to all of those who are expecting to be listed, I will get into it someday, promise, sure). I fell on this tiny gem of a post from Venezuela.

There are so many things to discuss about Venezuela and yet we tend to miss the real important stuff, the one that has become so embedded in our daily life that we have stopped paying attention to it, the stuff we have started taking for granted. One example is the ever present security guard, even the ones in front of your neighborhood pastry shop.

Harry Hutton and I have been to the same bakery shop. Not on the same day, but the same place, somewhere up in Las Palmas, the once semi affluent district of Caracas where many religious Jewish people used to live as they could walk to the Synagogue on Shabbat. They probably do not walk there anymore as they could get mugged on Friday night coming back home. The Rabbi probably issued a dispensation so they can drive their car to go to the temple. I think I actually remember the guard. I go there about once every six months as it is one of the places I meet my S.O. to go places on week ends. Then again there is a generic “je ne sais quoi” to all of these guards.

The only difference between Harry and Daniel pastry shop habits is that Harry noticed that even such a non descript pastry shop requires a security guard. Daniel has become so used to see them everyday, everywhere, that he stopped noticing such incongruities. But Harry reminds all of us how quality of life has degraded under Chavez, how criminality has become so rampant that even your neighborhood pastry shop must request the services of an armed vigilante, with his hand on gun at all time least patrons or shopkeepers get unburdened of their hard earned but devaluated bolivares.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Fun with the New York Times

Regular readers would remember how the New York times has gone from this blogger news Bible to a simple sophisticated rag that cannot be trusted on anything. The reason has been the scandalous manipulations of the Venezuelan situation and the semi glorification of Chavez by Juan Forero, the NYT delegate in Bogota (last time I checked). Beyond the fact that Forero tries to glorify any pseudo leftist insurgency in the continent, from Bogota of all places, the venerable NYT has had also many other problems and scandals. Thus my life long love affair with the Times ended in a bitter note. Wherever I lived in the US, if I could subscribe to the NYT, I did; once in Venezuela I used to receive daily a mail with the main news; the first thing I did whenever I arrived in the US was to buy at the airport the latest NYT issue. Those things are no more and the last time I bought a copy of the Times must have been three years ago.

Today I came across a Peggy Noonan article in the Wall Street Journal where she speaks about the Times. I frequently do not agree with her even though I read her columns as they allow me better to understand how the right functions, but also, well, she is a good columnist, and certainly nowhere as manipulative as Forero.

She writes, speaking of how the Times has been influent, and destructive, in the past:
Seventy years ago its depiction of Stalin's benignity left a generation confused, or confounded. Fifty years ago, when the Times became enamored of a romantic young revolutionary named Fidel, the American decision-making establishment believed what it read and observed in comfort as an angry communist dictatorship was established 90 miles off our shore. The Times' wrongheadedness had huge implications for American statecraft.
Fascinating. Not for her reminding us the obvious, but because it shows us that the Times has failed with Chavez to do the same thing, and Chavez is certainly more palatable than Castro, at least the pre-2002 Chavez. Why such NYT "failure"? Has the Times matured and assumed a more responsible attitude? Is Forero much less talented than journalists 50 years ago at weaving a tall tale? Or is it simply that the Times has become less influent as Ms. Noonan writes:
But it's not what it was. Once it was such a force that it controlled the intellectual climate. Now it's just part of it.
Indeed, dropping veneration for the New York Times makes one the richer: there are too many great papers in the USA to stop at simply a paper which is...
In a way the modern Times is playing to a base, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and the redoubts of the Upper West Side throughout America: affluent urban neighborhoods and suburbs. The paper plays not to a region but a class.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

SUMATE will not direct primary elections for the Venezuelan opposition

Or: "chronicles of a foretold death" could have been the title.

Sumate, the electoral NGO that is perhaps the most efficient organization in today's Venezuela has announced that since the delays for a a primary election on August 6 could not be held as of this week, it would withdraw from the primary process. As a serious organization, it had asked at least 6 weeks to organize them and the 6 weeks do not exit anymore as the candidates have not agreed yet on whether go to a primary or not.

End, it seems, of primaries in Venezuela.

Should we be surprised? Not at all, but not for the obvious reasons that chavismo would have us believe.

There were two powerful counter-incentives in holding primary elections within the opposition, no matter what other benefits there might have been.

1) the existence of the Maisanta list would have limited popular participation and thus tarnished any result of the election, something that chavismo would have benefited a lot from.

2) there seems that there will not be an election in December anyway so why bother.

Since I have addressed these two issues in the past, it would be redundant to go into detail again (on Chavez playing the abstention card to sabotage elections here, on that primary sinking feeling here and many other comments elsewhere on the cheating by the CNE such as here). I will come back to it when there is new and interesting information that could bring more light on what I said previously (reading myself it looks like I am more and more like a modern Cassandra!).

However I personally think that what is going on is that the electoral trickery of chavismo is so blatant that it seems impossible to have a free and fair election in December. The opposition candidates are becoming aware of that and are finally realizing that a primary campaign would be a waste of time, a waste of money and would only benefit Chavez in the long run.

In other words, primary elections make sense in democratic countries and these past weeks we have clearly seen that Chavez is taking the country far and away from democracy. Primary elections made sense in February. They make no sense today, no matter what benefit they could carry. It is useless to cry on that, more serious matters are aroudn the corner.

[to be continued]

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Chavismo without Chavez

The title of this post has always been an insult to intelligence as it assumes that Chavez has novel and interesting ideas that could transcend his persona. There is nothing new in the Chavez message, chavismo being a regurgitation of past failed ideas which in addition are misunderstood by their current advocate. The light varnish that pretends to refresh what Chavez would like to call “his” ideas is just a thick charisma and an even thicker oil price make up. But fascist movements have never been innovators, not even able to create new hatred, too content on serving hatreds inherited from the past.

Nevertheless some folks have been murmuring about a “chavismo without Chavez”, as if the “ideas” expressed by Chavez could be better served if someone else with better managerial skills would take the helm. That these ideas are by definition alien to good management shows already that the proponents of such action have no idea of what they are talking about, that we are just in front of some power struggle. Or are we? Sometimes I wonder if it is not Chavez himself that start such rumors to promote the regular purges that regimes such as his require to compensate their lack of democratic values: wishes for changes are inherent in human nature and sacrificing once in a while an acolyte that talked too much is one way to fulfill, for a while, such yearnings.

It is thus with the greatest interest, almost sickening pleasure, that I have read one of the most insightful articles written in a long time over chavismo. Using the excuse of examining what “chavismo without Chavez” means, Daniel Romero Pernalete in fact gives us a gritty portrait of what chavismo has become. The impact of the article comes not only from the strength of its words but also from the realization by the reader that such an article could not have been written 3 years ago. It is thus an eloquent account of the perversion of chavismo, in how it brings forth the worst vices of Venezuelan society and culture in order to secure the hegemonic position of Chavez, even without him if necessary.

The original in Spanish can be found here. The translation by Alek is here. I have reposted it below anyway.

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Without Chavez or Chavismo
By Daniel Romero Pernalete (*)

Chavez´ mad behavior has brought him some grudge among his own army of supporters. International rejection and internal discontent are feeding a dislike of the Cacique (local chief): chavismo without Chavez begins to kick the underbelly of the governing body.

For those feeling outraged, chavismo without Chavez may seem a desirable option, with a low economic and social cost. I do not subscribe to such alternative. Those who are weaving Chavez´ shroud come from the same stock as he. They were born under his shadow and grew up drinking the same milk of insanity.

Chavismo is not the emotional identification with a charismatic leader, it has become something else: a perverse national subculture, a way to misrepresent the world, a vicious manner to exercise politics, an unsavory way to look at life, with or without Chavez.

To be a chavista is to believe one has the right to connect his own greed to the national coffers, through the numerous corruption channels, for those at the upper echelons, to the recurring handouts, for those living downstairs.

To be a chavista is to cover with a thin film of social worries the selfish eagerness to gain attention and personal privileges, whether you are a minister or a neighbourhood leader, or if you carry some kind of badge or wear a red T-shirt.

To be a chavista is to criminalize dissidence, to demonize your opponent, to think you have the right to kill, politically or morally and even physically, no matter if the hangman hides behind a gown or under a red beret.

To be a chavista is to use cynicism as a tool, to see the mote in one’s neighbor’s eye and not the beam in our own´s, to apply an elastic morality for measuring attitudes and behaviours, never mind if the preacher has the rank of vice president or is a simple Mayor.

To be a chavista is to reward mediocrity and hinder ingenuity, to extol banditry and smear straightness, to encourage vices and frighten away talent, to lilliputize the environment in order to feel yourself a Gulliver.

To be a chavista is not to believe in consensus but in imposition, to assume that your ends justify your means, to negate democracy, to crawl away from the future, to live by regurgitating old ideologies.

Chavismo, as a vice, has experienced a metastasis, it has infected the entire social body. It has inverted the values and has speeded up the breaking down of the country. And it will be able to continue doing so without Chavez.

Any attempt to recover Venezuela´s future has to undergo the eradication of chavismo as a culture. This is the culture of clientelism and submission, of corruption and impunity, of cynicism and pusillanimity, of war and death, of authoritarianism and improvisation.

There isn´t much point in vanquishing Hugo Chavez and then continue living with his excrescences. The inertial force will go on pushing towards disaster, even after the initial impulse has been cancelled. Expelling Satan would not improve the climate of hell.

Venezuela can not choose between a chavismo with Chavez and a chavismo without Chavez, between a deified Chavez and a chapel without a saint. The alternative is a country without chavismo. This may sound hard, even intolerant, but tolerance, beyond a certain limit, ceases to be a virtue.

(*) Sociologist, Permanent Professor, Universidad de Oriente, Venezuela.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Duquenal, Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox and the Chicago Tribune

One great thing about blogging, once you get accidentally known from your work and consistency, is that it gets you to places you would have never thought your name would appear, such as the sports pages of the Chicago Tribune.

Apparently Ozzie, the beloved baseball star of Venezuela and now the successful manager of the White Sox (note: I am a Red Sox "light" fan) has qualified a sports journalist giving him a bad review with a pejorative homosexual epithet (observe how P.C. I am :) )

Last Friday I received a call from the writer of the article below, David Haugh. As a dutiful journalist he was checking on the validity of the "cultural" excuse advanced by Guillen and he run across my blog. Sure enough I told him that the excuse of Guillen was at best partially valid but that in public, in front of the press, no one in Venezuela today would use such epithets (unless you are the totally discredited mayor at large of Caracas, Juan Barreto, who might have some serious repressed homophobia and shows it by questioning the masculinity of whomever disagrees with him).

The article appeared today (registration needed, thus the complete post). It is a long one and a fun one to read actually. But if you are pressed for time you can go to the last part and check the text in blue, my modest contribution to Ozzie. I hope he forgives me if I did not back him, but then again I did not sink him, we are all so proud of him, even if he is a closeted chavista.

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Advice from the pros
Experts in human relations say it's wrong for Ozzie Guillen to blame his outbursts on cultural differences

By David Haugh
Tribune staff reporter
Published June 25, 2006

A police car passed the Guillen home in Venezuela the exact time young Ozzie was feeling the wrath from his father the way dads used to discipline their sons in his country.

The car stopped.

"My dad was hitting me," the White Sox manager recalled Friday. "And the police go by and say, `Hit him harder.' Here, you go to jail or they call you a child-abuser. It's a different way."

Guillen mined his memory for this childhood example to make a point, not a plea.

He might be 42 and in the middle of his 25th baseball season in America, but part of him never will outgrow the tough lessons learned growing up poor in Ocumare del Tuy, Venezuela.

He still thinks like the street-smart teenager who developed survival instincts that made him an All-Star shortstop and World Series-winning manager.

Unfortunately for the White Sox, occasionally Guillen still talks like that kid, too, a point a panel of experts the Tribune contacted found as troubling as many others in the city.

"I learn from the streets the language I have and I'm sorry my language is not better," Guillen said. "[But] when you put a guy who never went to high school to manage a big-league club . . . " He shrugged his shoulders.

Guillen has been in Chicago long enough to know that describing cultural differences to rationalize labeling Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti with a homosexual slur will sound more like an excuse than an explanation.

To Guillen, however, the American-Venezuelan divide comes closest to explaining the truth about what sparked one of his most controversial weeks on the job.

Between alienating Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan badly enough for Duncan to call him a liar on the radio and annoying Astros manager Phil Garner to the point Garner suggested he seek therapy, Guillen called Mariotti a word he said meant coward back home.

He later apologized for offending homosexuals and anybody else bothered by his choice of words.

"The one thing about the language in the U.S. that's kind of hard [is] you talk about religion you get in trouble, you talk about politics you get in trouble, you talk about country you get in trouble," Guillen said.

"There are so many things you can get in trouble, you have to be careful what you say, especially when you talk to the media every day."

Especially because Guillen has become the biggest lightning rod in a major-league dugout, electricity that only figures to intensify with the City Series resuming Friday at Wrigley Field.

By then, he may or may not have completed the sensitivity training Commissioner Bud Selig ordered as part of the league's reprimand. Guillen doesn't sound too willing to comply.

"What does sensitivity mean? Seriously," Guillen said, laughing. "I'm not a kid. I'm 42 years old. I know what I have to do in this life. I have two kids in college. I have a good family and do a lot of good things.

"Unfortunately, because one thing I say, my career's going down? No, I'm going to [stay] the same guy."

If he does, even general manager Ken Williams acknowledged Guillen's career might not last as long as it could with slight behavior modification. Williams cut short a trip last week to address Guillen's latest flare-up because he feared his manager was "going down a road that does not necessarily lend itself to longevity."

He basically told a contrite Guillen to watch his mouth.

"I didn't really have to discuss anything with him in depth because of the remorse he showed me, not toward the source of his target of his criticism, but in his choice of language," Williams said.

Other professionals in other fields also had advice for Guillen.

The sensitivity specialist

Allison West would begin her session with Guillen with the conversational equivalent of a fastball under the chin.

"I'd say, `My understanding is if you do anything like this again, you'll be fired, so how can I help you avoid that?"' said West, a nationally renowned expert in workplace relations from Employment Practices Specialists in Pacifica, Calif.

West has conducted seven sensitivity-training sessions this year with a variety of executives, one-on-one conferences that usually last six to 10 hours over three meetings.

The topics range from improper language to inappropriate touching. West usually to recount the behavior that started the process.

"It's a discussion," West said. "And it's important the White Sox take this seriously because there might be someone in that locker room who doesn't like that kind of talk but is afraid to say something. He should know better."

The sports psychotherapist

In jest, Garner suggested Guillen needs the kind of professional help in which psychotherapist Casey Cooper specializes: bringing athletes and coaches back to earth by talking them down.

"We build and build and build them up and act surprised when they say something that has gone too far," said Cooper, who specializes in athletics at South County Psychotherapy in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

"It's very difficult balancing a persona in the athletic arena with the rest of society. We try. Only the most sensitive and gifted people get good at it."

Cooper doesn't know Guillen, but, based on his comments, she doubts the Sox manager belongs to that group. She called the slur made to Mariotti, "the most powerful insult in sports" without realizing its hurtful power beyond the locker room.

"For people to change, they have to truly desire to change," Cooper said.

The Venezuelan blogger

Daniel Duquenal, a biochemist in Yaracuy considered one of Venezuela's best-known cultural bloggers, doesn't buy Guillen's explanation about the differences in the cultural interpretation of the slur.

"In some Venezuelan social circles, it means `jerk' and maybe you could say it in Spanish to a group of friends but never in public," said Duquenal, who spent 17 years living on the U.S. East Coast as a scientist before returning home.

Had Guillen uttered something similar in Venezuela, Duquenal said he thought the reaction would have been as critical--but probably quieter.

"You cannot say what he said--in the United States or in Venezuela," he said. "If Ozzie had been in the U.S. two or three years, yes, maybe, because of where he came from. But he has been there more than 20 years, so he should apologize [to Mariotti] and let it go."

The media guru

The next time Guillen comes close to offering a blunt assessment of someone or something he despises, Sue Castorino offers a suggestion.

"Go in a private place, let out a primal scream and come out publicly and think about everyone out there who will hear what you have to say," said Castorino, president of The Speaking Specialists, a Chicago-based media training group that deals with professional sports teams.

Castorino cautions athletes and coaches "the media always is going to get the last word." So consider every reporter a conduit to the public rather than a pain the neck.

"I'd tell Ozzie the same thing we tell everybody: Don't miss out on any opportunity to talk to everybody when you talk to one reporter, and don't make it personal," Castorino said. "Think about the whole public image."

The advice columnist

If syndicated advice columnist Amy Dickinson receives a letter from Jolted Jay in Chicago complaining about being publicly dissed by a famous baseball manager, Dickinson knows the tack she would take.

First, she would criticize Guillen for not knowing nuance better after two decades in the U.S. She would question the team's role in not making Guillen more equipped with his language that is parsed every day.

"To remove any doubt, he needs to be educated--right now," said Dickinson, whose column runs in the Tribune.

She called the slur "intolerable" and blamed Guillen's spate of outbursts on hubris.

"How many times can you hear, `Let Ozzie be Ozzie?"' Dickinson said. "Once you hear that, it has gone on too long. I don't know if you can teach someone to be sensitive, but you can teach someone to be professional."

Today's post: soccer/football as a subversive activity in Venezuela

Today's post is actually at Miguel's where I had to go to explain him why I much prefer futbol to beisbol.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Carabobo. Baduel, cadenas and Soccer World Cup

Today June 24 we commemorate again the battle of Carabobo that marked the end of Independence wars. Our Yorktown, Valmy or Waterloo, as you may have it.

Unfortunately this year it coincided with the beginning of the World Cup second run, namely the Germany Poland game. How would that play out? I was curious to know. As I had decided to watch the game on cable I went to check out if the traditional military parade was on, of course on cadena (1) as it happens every year. To my not so big surprise the cadena had started and tanks were rolling on the Carabobo memorial field with Chavez all decked up with the sash and jewelry of the occasion.

But the cadena was interrupted shortly, right after some big wig general, ridiculously perched from the turret of some tank, in wooden language asked Chavez for permission to start the parade... Of course, someone must have known better and managed to convince Chavez to make a compromise, to shorten the cadena and move on to the game as soon as possible. This is election year after all and the people want their futbol. So, once Chavez had shown out live his power to the people by displaying how the chief of the army asked permission to Chavez, this one was gracious enough to give us back the game. But the two goals of Germany were already history as the cadena ended up around the 20th minute fo the game... The replay would have to do.

Now, that would be funny, and banana republic enough, but Chavez would not let us get away with it. Tonight a new cadena gave us the COMPLETE military parade. It lasted over three hours. I was watching something else on cable but on occasion I would flip back to the Venezuelan media so chained. The cheesiness of the parade had reached new lows as now the reserve, this recruitment of jobless civilians reorganized as an ad hoc militia to push back an invasion of the Empire, parades along the regular units. The military music somehow sounded worse than ever. Not only the choice, but the audio. It all looked more like a punishment for wanting to watch today’s game than any patriotic ceremony.

And I will pass on the sound track and the revolutionary banalities, clichés and plain crap uttered.

By luck I went again to monitor the parade just as the cadena was about to end: Chavez was preparing to leave. As expected a suitable contingent had been displayed in front of the tribune and in the purest castrist style they intoned some adulatory incantation to “comandante Chavez”. No sense of ridicule left anywhere… Being president of Venezuela is less important than being "el comandante".

The news came right after the end of the cadena so I staid put. And I learned that during the parade Chavez announced “ by surprise” that general Baduel had been granted his third star, “on this very field of Carabobo” as if Baduel had done some heroic deed in battle. As far as I know his most glorious feat was to hold the tanks in Maracay on April 13. So we saw a teary eyed, visibly emotional Baduel receive this “honor” from Chavez, including the ministry of defense to be rotated in the next few weeks.

Actually I think that it might have been a real surprise though I would hope that it was all a montage. But in this bolibabana revolution all gravitates everyday more and more to Chavez who like any XIX century despot decides who gets what and when without any need for consultation (except of course his very close associates in the gang). What we are watching in fact is a delirious Chavez who is delighting in humiliating people like Baduel who have been sucking it up for so long that they do not realize how the system had degraded them. Pitiful to see of the army chief of staff is manipulated like a vulgar puppet… How low the mighty have fallen! How can anyone find a way to respect people after such shows?

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1) Cadena: the forced broadcast at the will of the government- when a cadena is called ALL TV and ALL radio stations in Venezuela must transmit SIMULTANEOUSLY the signal coming from the government, be it a Chavez speech or a military parade as it was the case today.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Another example of chavismo nihilistic brain-deadness

Since Chavez has reached office the kidnapping and murder rates have roughly trebled. The official one that is, some think that the increase might be much higher as more and more abduction cases seem to go unreported. Lately these have reached a dramatic peak that has even started, finally, affecting the “popularity” and self confidence of the government. For memory the recent cases of the Sindoni rapt, the murder of the Faddoul brothers and the more recent kidnapping of the daughter of a military heavily invested in the regime show that the situation is getting out of hand.

So what does the dim bulb national assembly handpicked by Chavez to help him solve the problems of the country do? Very simple, it will pass a law to forbid people who have a relative or friend kidnapped to pay the ransom. Voilà! Il suffisait d’y penser! (You just had to think of it).

That is right, you read it well. If, say, your mother gets abducted and you have the bad idea to go to the police, the first thing they will do is to freeze all of your assets so you will not be able to pay the ransom. I suppose that the brilliant idea is that when the kidnappers realize that you are “forbidden to pay” they will just release your mother. Ridiculously simple, isn’t it? Why did they not think of that in the Lindbergh baby case? They could have impounded the "Spirit of St. Louis" and threatened to burn it down if the kidnapper did not release the infant.

Of course this is totally stupid and for the occasional chavistas that reads this column and is already trying to find a counter argument, let me say how this law can be overcome. The first thing of course is NOT to report the kidnapping. If by bad luck the kidnapping is already public and your bank accounts and other properties are blocked (will the law allow you enough money to buy groceries or do they think that in the nervous state you are you will stop eating?) then you can go to friends and ask them to lend you the cash giving them liens on all your properties. Heck, even a bank might secretly for humanitarian reason try to loan you the money. Even more heck, the ransom seeker might even bargain with you and lower the ransom in exchange of some jewelry that the Seniat might have missed when they blocked your assets. I suppose in this last regard the law is an improvement of sorts.

¿En que cabeza cabe?

But as evil intentioned I am ever, I think that the motivation for this law lies elsewhere.

First, of course, it will cause a dramatic lowering of abduction rates as less of them will be reported. Success for the regime!!!!!

Second, for those foolish enough report them anyway, well, the government will have a good way to figure out all your real assets and real values. Heck, they might even fine you if you do not report all of your assets so they can block them. The tender and compassionate way Venezuelan justice has been operating these last years can only be reassuring as to the fast success of the investigation and release of your loved one. Look at the paradise that jails have become (going to jail for a long term sentence is akin to disguised death penalty), at how efficient and speedy justice has become (trials last for years and years, in particular if they are political and you are against Chavez), on how famous cases are cleared fast and impartially (Anderson, just to name one), etc… There is no reason at all for you to fear justice, to think that they are competent and that they will solve everything and one you are reunited with your loved one they will speedily return control over your assets the way you get tax refunds (al but never).

No, the real reason of this law IS NOT TO HELP the victims, it is to cover the state inefficiency in dealing with increasing crime, now crossing freely the border from Colombia.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Blogging for Futbol

These past two days I have been concentrating on the France Togo game. All about the game here.

You can also vote for the worst team of the World Cup.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Part 3 of “while Venezuela watched the World Cup”

Thus I keep my narrative of what and how Chavez is trying to stick it up to us while we watch the World Cup. But bloggers are ever vigilant. Just a quick item as I did spend too much time writing on “futbol”.

The NGOs under threat

So we have a country whose most beloved leader claims to be about to get 10 million votes next December, where polls, no matter how contradictory they are, all agree to put his victory next December as a landslide.

Yet, yet…

Venezuela has been a country where NGO have been making steady progress and questioning all the powers that be. Already AD and Copei did have their problems, now it is normal that the authoritarian regime of Chavez finds lots of criticism from that quarter. And he does not like it a bit.

Three well known NGO

There are three NGO that are particularly well known. COFAVIC was founded after February 1989 repression of a popular uprising. Its objective was to have military excesses pursued and punished. Its leader, Liliana Ortega, was even featured in US newspapers as one of the important leaders and innovators in Latin America. Her actions certainly did help Chavez to reach power. But Chavez is an ungrateful character and now COFAVIC is in the dog house. Why? It got recognition in international courts and the army must make amends. Except that now the army is the backbone of Chavez power. In addition COFAVIC has looked into the Vargas disaster of 1999 where human rights violations have been reported. Chavismo did not like that as it tries to present to the world a face of defender of Human Rights when it is not able to enforce them at home. So, COFAVIC and Ortega, true human rights fighters, are now considered enemies of the regime.

Primero Justicia started as NGO whose objective was to reform the highly corrupt Judicial system of the past administrations. It was also an educational NGO sponsoring programs to help people learn how to handle juridical questions and to make their rights count in court. Its success created a generation of bright new lawyers that became what is now the main opposition party. Chavismo does not like it as it is a constant reminder that an opposition can always arise from other successful NGO and someday politically threaten its hold on power.

And of course SUMATE, the bête noire of Chavez, the NGO that almost single handedly has established the Venezuelan Electoral system is not only inadequate but prone to abuse, cheating and what not. Its leaders, Machado, Plaza and Estevez are currently threatened of trial for treason to the fatherland on very shaky ground. They received monies form the NED, a congressional organization. The amounts are rather ridiculous to justify a sabotage of the Venezuelan regime when one sees the obscene amounts that Chavez uses to destabilize other regimes. But double standards do not trouble Chavez sleep and his sycophantic court and assorted henchman are trying any way they can to attack SUMATE, though the fact that Maria Corina Machado has been received by George Bush has complicated their task.


Thus the government has decided to control and regulate ALL NGO. That is, a law is being voted that will allow the executive power of Venezuela to emit any regulation it might see fit to control any NGO. Now, this might not be as scandalous as it seems and some arguments could actually be worthwhile considering. Unfortunately the Venezuelan laws and penal code already allow for control of any administrative abuse that might be committed by an NGO, such as cheating donors for personal profit. In other words the real intention of the government is to try to obtain through the new and unnecessary law a “legal” mechanism that will allow it to rein or postpone ad infinitum the creation of new NGO that do not conform to the “Bolivarian” conception of the world, and force the existing one to reveal all their funding sources and how the monies are used, thus adding to the Tascon/Maisanta list all the necessary details to deepen the political apartheid that exists today in Venezuela. Representative Iris Varela did not even mince her words on the subject, fully acknowledging the real objectives behind this farce. All NGO of relevance in Venezuela have rejected the proposed law (in English here).

Of course, if such a law is eventually voted, it will mean that any NGO that looks beyond helping sickness of the month patients or historical monument restoration is doomed. All NGO that do care about real subjects of society usually affecting our future and thus political (democracy, environment, human rights, education, etc…) will be banned as soon as they question the regime policies. Another step in curtailing our freedoms while the lefties elsewhere who thrive on NGO to criticize their own regimes have no problems in seeing Venezuela’s NGO go under.

Chavez has announced a trip that could include in a same schedule Syria, North Korea, Iran and probably a couple of gems such as quick stop over to report to Castro. Can anyone mention any significant NGO action taking place in these countries? I rest my case.

And more to come, stay tuned! The Chacao mayor, the revoking of TV licenses and more, many more!

PS: the law also aims, summum of hypocrisy, to legalize all the funds that Chavez is giving freely (and against Venezuelan budgetary law!) to his pals outside of Venezuela to help their political actions!!!!

Ps2: More details at Miguel's.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The CNE and futbol/soccer/football

In its inimitable way Tal Cual cartoonist Weil imagines what would be a Venezuelan Rules Football game with the CNE as the umpire and rules setter.

In case an accidental chavista supporter reads this post, the cartoon is a clear allusion as how the refusal of the CNE to have a REAL audit of the Electoral Registry (REP) is affecting the electoral scene. No matter how you compete against chavismo, if you do not have access to the electoral registry (access that chavismo amply possesses), you have all but zero chances to win the game. It is the same as the CNE deciding how many players can each side field.

While England slept (and Venezuela watched the ball, part 2)

We continue our travels among all these unpleasantness that Chavez is trying to stick us with while the country is watching the ball games in Germany. Today we will take a look at how the army never loses a penny and dispel any harebrained belief that Venezuela is not a military regime..

A definitive proof of Venezuela as a military regime?

The scandal at hand here is a tomato processing plant that Chavez announced about two years ago that it would be recovered to make it a “co-management” project to process tomato from the Barinas state in paste, catsup and peeled canned tomatoes. Nobody apparently told Chavez that if the tomato plant went bankrupt it was because Barinas is not the best area to grow tomatoes. But it seems that Chavez cannot be bothered by such details.

Thus, in Chavez brave new world, the army would be associated with the people to reopen this failed industry, generating jobs through newly formed agricultural cooperatives and managing the plant in a “co-gestion” system where everyone is the boss and employee. The financing for such a noble cause would come from the National Guard which will use its own Savings and Loans institute for this task (Cabisoguarnac).

Well, it did not turned out as expected. Apparently the money invested was used without much to show for it. At this point there is not even the sterile canning area properly set up yet. El Nacional (subscription only) followed the story quite well. Thus I will point out some of the main articles.

March 22. Following other scandals such as the ghost sugar mills of Barinas the National Assembly decides to investigate what happened with the tomato plant project, now referred as “la tomatera”. By the way, it seems that Barinas, the fief of the Chavez gang, is particularly prone to money disappearing and suspicious lands transfers which affect all but the Chavez family and its friends families who see their estate steadily grow under the governor stewardship (Chavez Dad) and its chief of staff (one of Chavez brothers). But back to the question that interests us today: what happened to 900 millions Bs (about 420 000 USD) earmarked to the project?

April 3. We learn that early in 2005 there were already reports of suspicious management of funds to the Republic Comptroller office, with no action taken. The reports were filed by Cabisoguarnac people, worried about where the savings were going. We learned a few juicy tidbits. For example, the loans were based on a supposedly 1.4 million USD expected profit, without even presenting a realistic plant to develop the cultivation of tomatoes in the area! The story of the refinancing and reorganization of the tomatera are quite something to read as not only there were not enough tomatoes to ensure the good working of the plant, but apparently even the weather refused to cooperate. Imagine that!

April 4. We learn that prosecutors on the case have been forbidden to discuss the matter. Apparently there is possible inculpation of the ex minister Albarrán, heavily implied in the Ezequiel Zamora Sugar Mill black hole (army involved too).

June 12. In Alo Presidente Chavez announces that Albarrán is “honest” (ignoring the official report that attributes him political responsibility for the Sugar Mill case).

June 15. The investigation is over, nothing wrong happened apparently. The Venezuelan Central Bank will cover the black hole by giving an extra 1.15 million USD to the tomatera project. Out of it 345 116 USD will go to the National Guard Savings and loan to restore its loss of the previous investment. The lame excuse used by Assemblymen Wilfredo González: There is no corruption act, simple the savings and loans did not have the capacity to complete the reactivation of the tomatera”.

Yes, that is right, the National Guard will not foot the bill. In summary: the National Guard invested some of it savings; something went wrong; there was a huge loss (corruption or not, we have not been shown the investigation report); the government restores its funds; tax payer money from suckers like this blogger will foot the missing millions. Allow me to express doubts as to the ability of the tomatera to EVER generate enough income to refund someday the monies.

But the problem here is not really whether corruption and bad investments took place (after all the very own board of Cabisoguarnac fired its chairman General Martín Albert Espinoza on the matter, suggesting already that an investigation should take place and its results duly published). For all that I know, it was just bad luck and the money was lost the good old fashioned capitalist way, notwithstanding co-gestion and cooperatives… No, the point here is that the National Guard asked for its money back and in a couple of months it got back every single penny it paid, eschewing any financial responsibility, any investigation (including, OF COURSE, any investigation on the complicated net of the Chavez family interests in Barinas). Even Albarrán, the one who planned most of this things if free now. Did he threatened to talk, à la Velázquez Alvaray?

Now, I ask the reader, who rules in Venezuela? Be it from this telling story, to the score of military personnel in all key position of the government and to all the unnecessary toys purchased for the army to play with (and juicy commissions), to the fat generals close to Chavez, Venezuela has become a military regime. There are silly people outside who think that actually Venezuela is a democracy and that Chavez is here to help the poor. Nothing of the sort: we are back to the XIX century where the army reached power to help itself except that with this time, with Chavez, they managed to do it through elections.

There is no better moment to deal with this sordid affair than a World Cup, isn’t it? Stay tuned, I have a lot of such moral tales to write on as I watch the games...

As for any investor foolish enough to come to Venezuela: make sure that none of your business partners belongs to the army if you want to share more than profits…

PS: there is an article in El Universal that addresses some of these points. Spanish.

Monday, June 19, 2006

While England slept (and Venezuela watched the ball, part 1)

The title of this post brings us back to those days when England was blissfully ignoring the shenanigans of Hitler and Winston Churchill was the lone Cassandra. He wrote a book about it. And update to Venezuela these days would be something like: While Venezuela watched the World Cup.

Indeed, Chavez has been very busy these days trying to score as many as possible sneaky and illegal points as he could before the people come down from the spherical euphoria (to which this blogger semi succumbed to).

A short list without any order of priority or even chronology. Today a first part with two items only.

Chavez buys arms

The government received the first installment of 100 000 Kalashnikovs riffles (in English). Or some weapon but I am too allergic to weapons and armies to even bother checking what exactly was bought. Since these riffles already correspond to more than what the Venezuelan army needs, something that remains to be explained, one could wonder why so many weapons and who will get them to defend what. But it got worse: Venezuela will install a Kalashnikov factory to produce 20 000 riffles a year. I suppose it will create new jobs that Venezuela so sorely needs. But now the real question is who will get these riffles, REALLY… Because to defend Venezuela against an US aggression they are not: Iraq had all the riffles in the world and the US did take it and the resistance is more based on suicide bombers than actual civilians brandishing riffles.

My answer? The riffles will find their way to the FARC and any other South American “resistance” or “revolutionary” movement that accepts Chavez as its leader. I think that Uribe as well as Garcia and Lula should watch out.

The elections get an important nail in their coffin

The CNE, in spite of all the pleading by the opposition and all the obvious trickery exposed from its part decided to go ahead anyway and have only the chavista universities make the Electoral Registry audit. Thus dooming ANY result that might come from it and EVEN INCREASE the lack of trust in the Electoral System. There was today in El Nacional an interview of two rectors, one from each camp. I do not have time to translate them, World Cup obligation, but I have posted two large excerpts of it in Spanish here. For those who can read Spanish it is worth the read to see the Chavista speech, full of big meaningless words to hide the truth and the direct and clear speech of the non chavista rector. Fabulous! Sharifker even adds that the sampling techniques of the CNE are a throwback to the XIX century. Then again Chavez is just a throwback.

Thus I keep getting more confirmations on what I wrote the other day, Chavez having chosen the strategy to promote abstention and go alone to election. Clear cut, how can anyone even harbor a doubt? And in case some chavista still bothers reading this column, remember that if you indeed have 70% in the polls what is the arm in counting all ballots and auditing independently the Electoral Registry?

As a funny foot note, the inenarrable minister of communication today went ahead to accuse yet another US led conspiracy to discredit the CNE audit. There is no better way to confirm that the audit is all fraudulent than when Lara speaks on it, a man that has not said a single true and sustained thing in years, a man who has ZERO credit outside of some hard line chavista circles.

Tomorrow in part 2, I will continue with the announcement made that Venezuela is officially a military dictatorship. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Quico is losing his marbles

Not only he predicted a 3 point advantage for Germany against Poland (it was a lucky 1) but today he dares to rate the teams after the first round. Unfortunately I do not disagree much with him. I was secretely hoping that we would fight bitterly over football to compensate for our general agreement on Venezuela. But maybe Makaren is right and all oppo bloggers are a single person. Miguel got it right on us... Or is he just upset that nobody pays much attention to his beloved Red Sox?

The World Cup does not stop the publication of opinion polls

As I am hearing the German anthem in some café (no, I am just waiting for an appointment and typing a post, I am not even on sight of a TV screen) I run across the latest Eugenio Escuela Poll. Now, before I trash this poll let me remind the reader that the only pollster in Venezuela of which I consider the results worth of note is Keller and associates. Otherwise, since August 2004 and the Tascon list I think there is no way that a pollster can get it right in Venezuela. The reason I like Keller is that he looks at trends more than actual numbers: trends in today’s Venezuela is about the only thing one can measure with some, little but some, accuracy.

Now, about the poll at hand.

My first gripe is that it gives results in two decimals. That is, for example, 47.99% of the potential electors are “certain to vote”. 47.99%? Such precision? I mean, even a single decimal in Venezuela these days gives me pause, but two decimals?....

The other gripe is, as usual, the glaring inconsistencies that one gets in every single poll one can read (except of course the highly prestigious serious and respectable and transparent North American Imaginary Virtual Establishment, a.k.a. NAOR who any time soon should give Chavez 95% of voting intentions). For example in today’s case we can see that over all Chavez still gets numbers. Heck, even the CNE get almost a 50% favorable opinion (49.20% “trust” the CNE to be as accurate as the poll).

However there is a very interesting sub question that contradicts everything else in that poll. The question is “What type of government should exist in Venezuela?” Those are the possible replies and their precise results (and I am not kidding! My translation)

Democracy US style.........................................37.18%
Democracy European style.............................11.82%
Democracy Venezuela pre-Chavez style....... 8.47%

This three rather anti Chavez styles get together a 57.47%.


The more pro Chavez options get respectively:

Democracy as now ..............................................17.33%
Bolivarian Democracy (what about “now”?)......5.43%
Participatory democracy ......................................2.00%
Democratic left (again, what about “now”?) ......1.36%
Democracy Venezuelan style (???) .....................1.40%

And off the wall options (I am putting it all because, really, I find them hilarious)

Government Cuba style .............................................................2.96%
Military Right Dictatorship ........................................................1.50%
Military Left Dictatorship ..........................................................1.20%
Does not know (??? What? Monarchy was not an option?) ..9.35%

Who thinks of such opinion polls? Who pays for that garbage?

Now that I think of it, I better watch Germany Poland, it definitely makes more sense!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Chavez sets his electoral strategy

Some recent developments have led me to be convinced that there will be no fair election in December, and probably no election at all. I think that the government has cast its lot and decided that its objective is to have a large abstention movement in front. This can be reached easily: making all opposition candidates withdraw or get a weak one to run, one that will be unable to rally a dispirited opposition around himself. The risks have been weighed and as far as I can tell the decision has been taken. How could this happen?

The December opposition pseudo victory

It all started in December 2005. When the international observers saw that indeed the gadgetry of the CNE could be used to eliminate the secret of vote the consequence was of course a withdrawing of the opposition and an abstention officially of 75%. That the finger printing machines were actually used as extensively as claimed is another debate: the fact here is that it was possible. Whether 25% or only 18% actually voted for Chavez’s list is equally irrelevant: the fact that 25% or less bothered to vote is a clear sign of political decomposition. The reactions, be them from Chavez team, or those read from the occasional chavista visitor to this page all indicate that chavismo had been dealt quite a blow then.

Unfortunately as it seems to be always the case, the opposition was unable to capitalize on this surprising victory. Simply put, the main proponents of the abstention movement had no plan B, their only offer not to vote ever again until Chavez gets tired.

This lack of creativity quickly turned out to Chavez advantage. No country broke up relations with Venezuela. If they became more careful in their deals and certainly less warm in the support from some, it remained that Venezuela and Chavez kept trotting along as if the new 100% red assembly was the most legitimate group around. Carrying a fat wallet certainly helps ugly people look less disgusting.

There was also, quite a fair bet, Castro advice. Castro has been ruling Cuba since 1958 without ever holding a election worth anything. And that has not stopped him, without an underground sea of oil, from dealing with pretty much anyone around, to the point of taking a few for a ride. So, why should Chavez worry about legitimacy if Castro never worried about it?

The new CNE

At some point in the weeks that followed the December set back the decision was taken to maintain the opposition in an abstentionist mood. The first step was to name a new CNE that would not bring any trust in the electoral system. See, there was that need to pretend that all was legal, that the opposition and international observers complaints were met. That is why Jorge Rodriguez was sacked from the CNE. Oh, he will return to the government one way or another some day, Chavez does not have too many competent but evil people around; regrettably Rodriguez had to take hit because, well, he was becoming too popular among chavistas for the liking of the beloved great leader who must make sure that no one around him could ever cast the faintest shade on him.

But if Rodriguez had to go it was not a problem: Chavez had the henchwoman at hand. Tibisay Lucena was the right hand of Rodriguez. While he was on TV pretending that the CNE was running the best operation in the world, she was the one doing the dirty work. Eventually she got her prize.

Of course nobody was fooled. The new CNE has already demonstrated to be even worse than the past one, a one sided pro Chavez affair with a lone rarely dissenting voice just for show. But the latest event seems to indicate that perhaps the skilled hand of Rodriguez is missing. Unless, of course, direct provocation is what is now wanted.

The refusal to audit the Electoral rolls

Among the scores of problems in the electoral system of Venezuela, the biggest one might be the composition of the electoral rolls. This one has ballooned in a very suspicious way, to say the least. People without a street address count in the millions. People with serially repeated names have ceased to be a novelty. Districts where there are more electors than inhabitants are not a rarity. Electors with such cute names as XX (I kid you not) are popping out here and there, and many more amusing details. Amusing if it were not that in addition ballots are not counted so there is no way to tell if electro XX did vote, or if elector Jon Doe voted thousands of times. Because of course if all paper ballots were actually counted the electoral roll could be twice the population of the country, we would not get more votes than the amount of people who actually went out to vote. End of discussion.

Last year the CNE had accepted a “lite” audit by some organization called CAPEL. They limited themselves to look at some inconsistencies within the electoral roll. Sure enough they did find some but nothing worth writing home about. Thus this year the three main Venezuelan universities offered a new system to audit the Electoral Registry, a system that would actually compare it to the latest census, among other testing means. Imagine that!

The CNE at first pretended to be open to the idea but when it realized that the proposal was forthcoming, it diluted the effort by bringing in inexperienced campuses. The leader of this counter proposal, a rehash of CAPEL, was the 2003 founded Bolivarian University, a university that has yet to graduate its first student, a University that has had three rectors already, one of them dismissed under accusations of corruption, the current rector being only a provisional one while he holds the vice-ministry of something in the corresponding joint. How could the Bolivarian pseudo-University undertake such a titanic project and how could the CNE dare say that their project was the best one presented? Yeah, right, the best one to preserve the convenient secrets imbedded in the Electoral Registry.

On the anecdotic part, no mean was too small not to be used to discredit the independent universities proposal. One morning, for example, I watched as a member from the discredited National Statistics Institute, INE, was dispatched to state TV “En confianza” to demonstrate that the latest census could not be used to study the variability within the electoral registry because, you know, the census includes people that are not allowed to vote… Maybe the ration between men and women is different in the census than in the electoral registry? Please…..

The implications

Because the crux of the matter is that if too many real irregularities are discovered, then all the electoral processes since 2000 would be called into question and that is certainly not something that chavismo is willing to risk. Unfortunately for the CNE the courageous stand of the three independent universities is hurting its image bad enough that the CNE cannot afford to dismiss then outright as it is so clearly and painfully obvious from the press releases coming from that den, and the faces reading them.

That is way it has come clear to me that there will not be a serious audit before December, and more than likely no real concessions will be granted by the CNE. The CNE not only cannot afford to be discovered for the trickeries it has been doing all along, but it will reinforce them so as to discourage opposition voters to go to the polls. Who cares if chavistas go or not, the ballots will be printed anyway and empty polling stations will manage to yield the promised 10 million votes. Chavez knows already that observers are not likely to come this time, and that people will still do business with him because they need our oil.

It is working, so far. In addition from distracting the campaign from all the miseries of Venezuela (Las Mercedes was again closed today by a protest BY CHAVISTAS, creating yet another gigantic gridlock in Caracas) it is creating a serious problem for the wanna-be opposition candidates as inexplicably some are unable to take a strong stand against the CNE. Only Teodoro Petkoff seems grudgingly to go towards what will be the inevitable confrontation. Borges seems like a fool and Rosales the perfect Cheshire Cat. If the candidates do not do something about the CNE soon enough, they will not be able to rally folks if miraculously conditions were to improve, and will find themselves alone at the polls.

But it is not enough that Chavez is able to distract the country from his misdeeds by having people endlessly discuss the CNE shenanigans, it is not enough that abstention seems again to be gaining ground even if all sorts of pundits (including yours truly) want to fight for out right to vote until the bitter end. I am afraid that Chavez is actually thinking deliberately about canceling the election altogether. He has been toying with the idea of a plebiscite for a while and experience has taught us that what he himself thought of as a mere provocation, he makes it eventually a state policy. He is crazed enough for power.

Castro did say that elections were a waste of time. Who is Chavez to disagree?

Monday, June 12, 2006

A new football blog

Quico and myself have started a football blog for this cup. Quico is the nerdiest one in that he loves football trivia way more than I do (and certainly manages it better than I do). I am more an amateur than he is but older and with more World Cup memories than Quico. Please, visit us at Venezuela Football Pundits.

All can post. Venezuelan politics forbidden over there. Guest posters encouraged to submit.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Argentina 2 Côte d'Ivoire 1

The match of the day was probably Argentina Ivory Coast but I could only watch a few minutes of it here and there as I was popping in any restaurant that had a large screen TV to see where the game was at. This time around sales of LCD and plasma TV have boomed in Venezuela and it seems that the boom is in part due to many eateries that are trying to attract clients with the best screen available. I like it. Actually, many malls desperate to attract clients have also set up TV in hallways. Meanwhile VTV keeps showing major league games... No comments, football is the one thing that Chavez cannot co-opt, no matter what he tries. Baseball is his thing.

At any rate, the game seems to have been a tough game, judging from this picture (aerial of course, as I like them) where surely at least someone was hurting afterwards.

To end this post, I would like to point out that a colleague blogger of mine with whom I share many of my political views and who I greatly appreciate seems to know less about football than what he pretends to know. His predictions for the day where harshly countered. He should stick to politics :) Of course, I am too much of a coward to dare predict scores the way he does.... :( Though I agree with him in that I was giving Sweden winning. Still I think he grossly understimates the CONCACAF. The great thing about that FIFA system is that small countries with very hungry players bring a lot of interest to the Cup, whereas big countries are victims of some of their players whose legs being worth millions in insurance money are, well, how could I put that nicely, not as "hungry". This is exactly what happened to France and Argentina 4 years ago, tired, listless, riskless teams that got what they deserved.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

England 1 Paraguay 0

A frustrating game. England showed that it is a serious competitor for this cup but the way it could not put its act together in the second half is not encouraging.

Paraguay did its best in the second half and could have deserved to tie the game. But Paraguay does not have the creativity of the Brits. The best shots still came from Lampard or the cunning mind of Beckham placing the ball to the best placed Brit. Still, England was better than in past World Cup and it has 2 more games to put its shit together.

And, from this game, this is why I like football, these aerial pictures that you do not even get from basketball :)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Early exit for Humala?

Though I am very busy these days with all sorts of problems to solve, I must find a few minutes to comment on the early signs of an early dismissal of the coalition that supported the electoral bid of Ollanta Humala in Peru. I have been forwarded a report from a stock firm (G.S.) that mentions clear details from the UPP, a partner of Humala, that is already posing its conditions to continue supporting him. The said UPP did get 19 seats out of 120 in the new parliament and if it decided to seat on its own it could find itself supporting Garcia APRA on some social programs, for example. The APRA got 36 seats and the sum of them would give 55 seats, very close to a 61 required majority.

This was also hinted at a couple of days ago in an EFE dispatch. (hat tip M.S.).

I must go back to remind the gentle reader that on June first I was speculating as to Chavez not minding at all Humala losing as he might not be able to control him. Maybe he sensed that Humala would lose quickly control of the Peruvian National Assembly (did rumors on UPP existed already?). Thus Humala would weaken before he had a chance to establish a hard regime in Peru. Maybe Chavez, ever the autocrat, resented that Humala might not be a easy to manipulate as BoliviaÂ?s Morales? Who knows but the late campaign strategy of Chavez is more understandable today. The mystery here is not that Chavez endorsed Humala the first time. The mystery is why, after all the grief Chavez got the first time around he persisted in endorsing again Humala at such risk. Two things could happen:

1) If Chavez gambit lost, he could discard Humala promptly and all would forget about him backing Humala in the ridiculous way he did.

2) If it succeeded with Humala winning, this one, and the UPP, would feel so indebted to Chavez after that second notorious endorsement that they would be more docile to his designs. Kind of a last ditch effort, but Chavez is known for his last minutes recoveries.

Unfortunately for Chavez, it is quite possible that it will fail anyway. There is enough evidence of people who supported Humala did not like the support of Chavez (heck, even Humala's wife complained!) Humala now defeated they might dare come out and break links with Chavez.

At any rate, before the reader thinks that Chavez was particularly machiavellian, whatever he tried on Peru will have deteriorated considerably his image among his LatAm colleagues who have not been amused at all by the antics of Chavez in Peru (even if few say anything in public). But these days an unbound Chavez does not check at details and freely runs into unnecessary troubles. The silence from Miraflores on Peru speaks volumes....

Announcement: World Cup comes to this blog

This picture of a Serbia-Montenegro player shows pretty much what will take place in people's mind for the next month (though Serbia-Montenegro is recently deceased, it will not stop both countries from playing this last cup together).

This blogger will go on a an erratic writing mode. Not infrequent but erratic. Though he is contemplating the purchase of a WiFi so he can watch football matches while typing witty and deeply relevant posts on Venezuela (if he does not trashes his lap top on the floor when he jumps whenever France scores).

My predictions (I am in a daring mood today). I am afraid it will be Brazil again. Afraid because contrary to popular taste I have never cared much about Brazil in football (though past posts here attest to my love of the country). But there is, I think, a good chance for Argentina (which contrary to popular tastes I like). Other possible contenders include France (my favorite of course) and England (who I think particularly strong now that Beckham is not its super star anymore). For Germany it might not be enough to have the home advantage. And Portugal is the dream outsider.

My dream final game? France against either Portugal or the USA. I can dream, no?

PS: note to the US readers. Two things. 1) this morning google news had the world soccer cup in third!!!!!!! I mean how provincial and self centered can you guys get? Heck, are you aware you have a team in the World cup? and 2) I usually try to use the term "soccer" for Football as my counters reflect more than half of the readers from the US. But through this month the word "soccer" is banned. Deal with it :)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Special post scriptum on the Peruvian election polls

Reading my colleagues I am reminded of the Chavez favorite pollster that keeps giving sky high numbers to Chavez (Rangel alluded to it recently through a poll that he preferred "not to name yet" giving a 70+). That fake pollster who pays for full page adds in Ultimas Noticias to attack the anty Chavez blogs, was at it in Peru, claiming a track poll that was giving a 18% lead to Humala. I mean, how wrong can you get? Chavistas dispatched over there to help Humala in any way they could seem to have mentioned NAOR, managed by heavily involved in corruption scandals and easy "bolivarian money" Julio Makarem.

I will leave the details for you to read at Quico (here and here), Alek, Miguel, or even a late post of yours truly.

PS: watching Telesur this morning trying to put a best face on Humala defeat was a truly exquisite moment. All on VTV of course, who is not having a good week :)

Another week, another slap on Chavez and HIS CNE: Peru’s Garcia comes back from the dead

After a day on the road and other such activities I came late to look at the Peru election results. And I decide to keep the same format as last week when I was discussing the Colombian result: start by comparing the electoral systems.

The CNE gets a new slap on the face.

Already perturbed as the serious universities of Venezuela are about to pull out yet another fig leaf of the CNE skirt, the Peru vote shows again how inefficient and untrustworthy the Venezuelan CNE is.

I arrived in Caracas at 4:50. At 5 I had Globovison on and I saw as all the polling stations of Peru were closing at the scheduled time. This is something that has not happened in Venezuela for the last 4 elections. And totally unaccountable as the abstention is 75% and thus there ARE NO LINES ANYWHERE to justify keeping polling stations open for a couple of hours more. Later tonight I saw that abstention in peru was only 11% ! And they all voted on time!!!! Please, CNE, explain.

At 5:01 (4:01 Lima time) exit polls were published with a 54% projection for Alan Garcia. In Venezuela NO ONE can say anything until the CNE has emitted its first official bulletin. This usually last from 2 to 4 hours after ballots FINALLY close. This was dramatic on August 2004. The CNE waited for the wee hours when the opposition stunned could not find its bearings to counteract the announcements. There is NO REASON to block the news the way the CNE does in Venezuela, a blockage that reeks of manipulation. All major democracies in the world allow publication fo results as soon as polling stations close and none is the worse for it (The US case is different but not to be discussed tonight here). So? Please, CNE, explain.

Now, as I am typing at 11 PM I hear that Peruvian TV is reporting 100% of ballots in several Peruvian provinces, including remote Ayacucho of Sendero fame (where, by the way, Humala kicked ass with around 80%). The ONPE web page gives at 5 hours from ballot closing a total of 78.8% stations reporting (and that web page works better than the CNE page, by the way…). Here in Venezuela we are still waiting for details of last December elections where LESS people voted than in Lima alone. What gives? Plese, CNE, explain.

No case here: since last December we have seen 3 major elections (primitively organized if we were to believe some CNE self sufficient) that run on time, that gave results on manually counted ballots in a few hours, with the quick recognition of the losing side (Humala has conceded a few minutes ago). Please, CNE, explain why Chile, Colombia and Peru are faster and much more trusted than you?

The “victory” of Alan Garcia.

The Peru election of yesterday looked a lot like the French election of 4 years ago when socialists had to pinch their nose and go to vote for Chirac to bar Extreme Right candidate Le Pen from winning. Except that this time it was the modern democratic right of Peru that had to pinch its nose to make sure that the “nationalist” and “socialist” (shiver!) Humala did not reach office. The good news is that they succeeded and that Garcia got 55% of the vote, the strict minimum he needed to rein in for a while Humala who with such a result cannot launch yet its hordes to the streets the way Morales did a few weeks after Sanchez de Lozada was sworn in. He probably will someday but with 55% Alan Garcia has too much legitimacy to riot against him for the time being.

The bad news is that the victor is Alan Garcia, a proven failure. He has been running around for 15 years and we can hope that he used that time, including a long exile under Fujimori, to learn a little bit about modern techniques of government. I am afraid to show optimism here since the last time I took a chance was with Morales who I assumed would show some backbone and not become a pawn in Chavez hand. The way that I have been proven wrong is almost stupefying as none would have predicted such a willful surrender of Morales to Chavez continental design, a surrender only matched in ridicule to the one that Chavez did voluntarily to Castro…

To give the Venezuelan reader a certain perspective, it would have been as if in Venezuela we would have had to chose between Chavez and Carlos Andres Perez in 1998. The followers of Lourdes Flores have to be commended to hold their nose and focus on Garcia proven democratic values as Humala is a coup monger surrounded by a racist, homophobic, Stalinist crowd. Let’s hope for the best, but Garcia will not have it easy: in addition of his checkered past he barely controls a third of the new parliament. At least he inherits a country in good working order, courtesy of Toledo excellent managerial skills that were infinitely better than his political skills.

Some details of the election

Peru allows blank voting but still, 91.9% were valid votes. Thus the importance that Peruvians put on that crucial election. This is confirmed by a low abstention rate that would make white with envy most democracies in the world: 11.04%. Even overseas Peruvians voted “en masse” as 63% found their way to the nearest consulate! Overseas by the way voted 65% for Garcia. Curiously in Venezuela we got only a little better than Peru. Thus the glorious Bolivarian revolution has not been able to convince a majority of Peruvians in Venezuela.

In Lima 62.3% voted for Garcia, making it more difficult for Humala to stir trouble. Though he can do that from Cuzco or Arequipa where he got respectively 69% and 64%. But in La Libertad, where modern and booming Trujillo rests, Garcia got 75%! It looks like a very divided country, where the ancient ways tried to get back at modernity with Humala while forward looking Peru moved away, slums and all, from a divisive proposal. Because when there are more than 50% slums in the Lima area and a lot of them did go Garcia. A lesson that Humala should ponder some. As for Garcia, his first priority should be the “forgotten” Peru of the high mountains and terribly arid South (Though he did manage to carry Moquegua with 50.2% and Ica, admittedly close to Lima, with 59%). After all Humala carried more than half of the provinces, an important factor for future elections…

A blog with moment by moment following of election day is worth a visit (this line is a note added later, too bad I did not read it before I wrote this post...).

As for Chavez.

Well, now we are waiting to see if he is going to break relations with Peru as he promised in case Garcia won. That 55% is good enough for Garcia as Chavez can hardly claim fraud (though some his minions sent to observe were trying to indicate it, one of them I heard on VTV saying that the margin was “barely” 200 000 votes and all could still change; well, the margin is now above 1 million and it ain’t changing much with the 20% missing). So, Hugo, what are you waiting for? Should I point out your foot and where in your mouth you should insert it?

But the recent speeches of Garcia against Chavez have created a sworn enemy. And one uselessly gained. Reuters is not afraid to title "Garcia defeats Chavez". Garcia will have now perfect excuse to sign the FTA with the US. To ally himself with now respectable Uribe. To brow beat its neighbor Bolivia. To force Chile to negotiate a Bolivia access to the sea if Bolivia accepts to behave. Etc, etc… Bad news of Chavez all around as Garcia is not to be intimidated. Garcia formed his political career under real dictatorships, he went into exile, he faced huge protest marches, etc… Not a silly coup and a media campaign in 1998 as Chavez did. Garcia is a tough bone for Chavez, a bone that Chavez has only himself to blame if it gets stuck in his throat.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

How does the CNE fraud works? Arguing with academia


Since 2004 there has been a generalized mistrust of the Venezuelan Electoral Board, CNE, which is considered by a large sector of the Venezuelan electorate to be rigging the elections to favor Chavez and his candidates. This mistrust has been duly noted by the international observers which have been urging the CNE to take corrective steps to bring people back to the voting stations. Last December the catastrophic 75% abstention (the official, but very questioned number) indicates clearly that the huge majority of Venezuelan people see little point in voting (no to mention that to this date we still officially do not know the result of the null votes of last December, reported to be unusually high). Today I did get a confidential survey about to come out (or so I was told) where one question as to the CNE trustworthiness indicates that only a third of the country had a favorable opinion of the CNE, obviously coinciding with the hard core chavismo who does not mind if Chavez gets some suspicious help in getting good electoral result.

Now, assuming that indeed the CNE is cheating, how does this take place? There have been uncounted numbers of accusations, hypothesis and tall tales going around. This blogger personally at this point is convinced that some form of cheating is taking place, if anything by the intimidatory nature of the voting act which scares away people. This is enough for me to condemn unambiguously the CNE even if I were shown that there is no trickery in the ballot counting per se. The CNE should promote voting and not scare people away with finger printing machines, illegible ballots that are not counted anyway, doubt about the secret of voting, and more.

The main problem

Of all of these theories a consensus has emerged. The more than suspicious inflation of the electoral rolls has led to believe that there are thousand of fake voters that can be easily made to vote electronically somewhere. Evidence comes from two directions: numerous reports of irregularities from an unusual number of 100+ year old folks, to scores of people with the same last name born on the same day. But the more damming evidence is the refusal by the CNE to let a real independent audit take place. For all its excuses the CNE stalling continually raises more and more suspicions. It cannot be helped.

How would cheating work? Very simple. If the paper ballots are not counted, it is very easy with a few operators to program remotely some Smartmatic machines to have “electronic” voting of way more people than actually showed up to vote (remember that voting machines were not supposed to communicate with Caracas CNE during the voting hours, but they did before the tallies were printed!). Since the CNE now names the voting stations attendants and limits citizen participation and surveillance, not to mention that it does not count paper ballots, who knows what really happened. Adding a million ballots in a one question vote (a president election or a referendum) would not be difficult at all. Removing a million from the opposition candidates to switch them to Chavez would be equally easy. Remember: paper ballots are not counted and the CNE decides which centers are audited and when.

At some point inside the CNE (and presumably in Chavez offices) the notion that such a doubt could cast on Chavez own legitimacy dawned. Thus an international organization, CAPEL, was called to make an audit. Once the methodology was published, very few people outside of the CNE of chavismo supported such an audit. As expected that audit found only “minor” problems. Thus mistrust grew even more and the new CNE nomination did not help at all in dispelling some of that doubt.

The current situation

Something had to be done. Since the CNE was obviously paralyzed on that issue, the three main universities of Venezuela, the only ones with the expertise and resources to undertake such a statistical analysis, offered to set up an audit. The CNE could not refuse outright, of course, but it limited itself to say that it would receive the proposal and consider it. Quickly the CNE realized that indeed such a proposal was coming and they decided to stall again by “inviting” other campuses to present proposals. Unfortunately the other campus were mediocre to underachieving universities that have cast their lot with chavismo hoping to get an increase in funding.

In Venezuela only the UCAB, UCV and USB have the personnel and resources to conduct such a complicated audit. The other that joined the process are UBV, UNERG, UNERMB, IVIC, UMC, UNESR and are little bit more than Mickey Mouse campuses, but how so “Bolivarian” (I have my own source to confirm that, working in the appropriate ministry). Let’s just go over three of them. The UBV is that famous Bolivarian University founded in 2003 and which has still to graduate its first student. The IVIC is the once prestigious research institution which was imposed a chavista director in spite of a non chavista being elected by its staff and whose delegates to the CNE are of course appointed by such director and thus make it as irrelevant as the other ones. The UNERG of which I had the sad experience to hire one of its graduates to have to let it go within a couple of months realizing that if this kid was one of the best of his class, then I did not want to know whether the lower ranking kids knew how to resolve and plot y=ax+b… No, anyone that knew of the Venezuelan university situation knew off the bat that the invitation made by the CNE to these universities was a delay tactic.

Sure enough they quickly came out with a proposal that strangely resembled the CAPEL one. Whereas UCAB, USB and UCV came with another one that included crossing the CNE electoral roll with other registry systems such as the national identity cards or the demographic evolution of the country. Any real scientist will tell you that to check a probelem you need internal and external control methods, and the CAPEL like proposal lacked such controls. Since the CNE asked that all campuses agree on a single proposal, stalemate became unavoidable. When the three “serious” campus emitted a communiqué to state their position, CNE head Tibisay Lucena was prompt in coming out and pretend to be “shocked” by the position of these campus. Not only she revealed her true colors in the matter (in case anyone had any doubt) but it also revealed that the way things are going on: if there is a real audit at the end, it will be too late to be considered for the December election.

The solution?

Time runs. There is no point in arguing with the CNE. The only thing left is to count all the ballots next December (Colombia and Chile do, what is the problem?). If the Electoral Registry is as trustworthy as the CNE claim, there should be no inconsistency between the counted ballots and the electronic ones. That will rest the issue once and for all and the opposition would look like the paranoid fools that chavismo has been claiming they are.

It is just that simple. The opposition candidates should 1) not argue needlessly with the CNE, it is clearly useless, and 2) not delay in taking a stand on this subject otherwise they will be alone at the polls. Let the CNE assume its responsability alone: if it does not mend its ways, there will always be time to do anything from withdrawing from the race to riot in the streets. With a Chavez by the way who will have a hard time to explain how he got 10 million votes when no one lined up at the polling stations to vote.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Fascists moments in Yaracuy (updated)

Repression is coming. Even to small state capitals like San Felipe.

A few days ago I reported on the political arrest of Yaracuy's ex-governor, Eduardo Lapi. I do not know whether there are enough, or even real merits to arrest him and send him to jail without trial, but what was clear for anyone in Yaracuy, is that the timing of that arrest was coinciding as the fortunes of the current governor, Gimenez, are badly sagging as the Chavez party is murmured to be about to pull the rug under him. As I commented them 1 year of Gimenez administration has undone much of the legacy of Lapi and people are noticing. It is that simple. Gimenez is one of the worst governors in Venezuela today.

This afternoon I was running an errand at some local bank. Sometimes on Fridays banks stay open 1 hour later or more and that bank was no exception. As I was discussing matters with one of the managers we noticed that suddenly the doors had been closed and that the long line of people was no more. The manager inquired and was told that there were some "disturbios" (disturbances) and security had closed the bank while many people preferred to leave without money and go home in a hurry before public transit collapsed.

I did finish up my business and once in the street found it rather calm. Thinking the worst over, and not carrying my camera (nor being mentally ready to investigate, not even knowing what was the origin of the troubles) I went home, a few blocks away. Safely home I turned on Alo Ciudadano just to hear around 5 PM the it was a march in support of Lapi in front of the State House, that access had been blocked to Lapi supporters, while Gimenez supporters were allowed in front of the state house.

Well, as the journalist was reporting on a previous attack, she started chocking, running away, as the state police and Nazional Guard not only allowed the Gimenez crowd to throw stones at the Lapi supporters, but shot tear gas and plastic (and not so plastic) bullets towards them!!!! Tear gas included! Strom troopers backed by civil servants!!!!!

And from home, as I was watching the TV I could hear all the shots while listening to the journalist reporting while she was running for cover!!!!! Talk about simultaneous broadcast! And too late to go there and take pictures.

And it sort of got better: a few minutes after Globovision showed a video of the Vice president defending earlier in the day the Yaracuy Governor. Imagine that, he needed the Vice to state publicly that the Lapi arrest had no political connotation! What a lousy image the governor projects with that! But it was not so good in the end as the vice obviously had forgotten the name of the governor he was defending and stuck several times to the “Governor of Yaracuy” rather than “Governor Gimenez” which is usually how those things go.

But Gimenez is a lousy governor, not even MVR, and with a thug reputation even within his own people. The Vice knows better than bothering recalling the name. However, removing from activity a possible strong opponent, violently crushing a peaceful demonstration are crucial steps to take, least people get the wrong idea that we are still under a democratic government. This the Vice made sure to imply by preempting any “political” accusation earlier in the day. The repression, if you asked me, was already planned even before the marchers arrived at the State House. That is fascism, that is what has been happening in Venezuela since April 2002: let’s marchers come to the set up trap.

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PS: the final tally is not out yet but apparently there are some pople injured, one perhaps about to lose her eye.

PS2: links from the provinces are scarce. I will link them as they come. link 1, a radio station closed, one serious injury. Link 2, a commentary article on the case from Barquisimeto El Informador. Link 3, also El Informador. Teodoro comes out to call the persecution against Lapi for what it is, a political persecution (that is big news, for a candidate to take such a stand, a candidate that will soon hit Yaracuy on the trail; we'll see how he is received...).

PS3: At 11 PM Globovision shows the footage of videos taken this afternoon. It is very easy to observe that the pro Gimenez folks were safely BEHIND the police lines, in front of the State House (probably arriving earlier as soon as news of the other march was known). It was the pro Lapi faction trying to make a rally in front of the State House (a civil right of ALL Venezuelans) that was barred from access. It was the pro Lapi faction that was harrassed, never the pro Gimenez that was vociferating from behind police lines, provoking and throwing stones. Bolivarian storm troopers, brown/black/red shirts.

PS4: There was another brutal repression in Carabobo as railroad workers protested the abuses of the boss which is the government in this case. Apparently they have to work for 12 hours and are dramatically underpaid. They also accuse the trade union that is supposed to represnt them to be a boss trade union, imposed by the government. Amazing... Back to the USSR....